Southern Pickle-Brined Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Pickle-brined chicken makes the best southern crispy chicken sandwich! Start with extra crispy chicken between soft sandwich buns loaded with sweet and tangy homemade Chick fil A sauce, and pickles! Simple and so delicious!
If there’s anything on this planet that is ‘worth the calories’, it’s a homemade spicy chicken sandwich that’s been brined in pickle juice overnight and dredged in seasoned flour. Then, fry it until it’s extra crispy.
This isn’t your average grab-and-go Chick fil A crispy chicken sandwich! It’s one that’s treated with lots of love and care and enjoyed on hot summer evenings on the patio with friends or family.
Like I said, it’s actually worth every. single. calorie.
What’s a crispy chicken sandwich?
A tender piece of boneless, skinless chicken that’s dredged in a flour mixture that often contains a variety of seasonings and spices. The flour coating adheres to the chicken, which is often brined in buttermilk or other liquids, creating a crumbly crust. When you fry the chicken, the coating becomes crispy and crunchy! Then, you pop this into a soft bun and top it with your favorite toppings.
Ingredients to make a super crispy chicken sandwich:
- chicken: you have a few different options here, you could use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or even boneless skinless chicken thighs. This recipe uses 1 pound of chicken (or two hefty chicken breasts) that were cut down the middle and pounded using a meat mallet into an even thickness.
- buttermilk: because of its low pH, buttermilk helps tenderize the chicken without toughening it. I don’t usually keep buttermilk on hand. So instead, I used powdered buttermilk and reconstituted it for this recipe. I use ⅓ cup of buttermilk powder with ¾ cup of water for this recipe, instead of the amount written on the package. I find it tastes much better this way!
- pickle juice: used as a brining liquid that helps tenderize and flavor the chicken.
- sugar: sugar is used both in the brining mixture as well as the crunchy coating to create a well-balanced flavor
- all-purpose flour: the base for our dredging mixture. I use a 50:50 mix of AP flour and cornstarch to add a better crunch to the chicken.
- cornstarch: used 50:50 along with the flour to make the chicken breasts extra crispy.
- seasonings: we use a combination of smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and cayenne pepper to create an ultra flavorful flour coating and brining liquid.
- oil for frying: You want to use high heat oil for frying, such as peanut oil. Using oil that has a high smoke point and a neutral flavor is essential. If you didn’t want to use peanut oil, you could also use canola or vegetable oil.
How to make a crispy chicken sandwich:
- Brine the chicken: Combine the ingredients for the pickle brine in a glass measuring cup. Add the chicken to a glass dish and pour the brining mixture over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 18 hours in advance.
- Dredge the chicken: Combine the flour, cornstarch, and seasonings in another pie dish and whisk until evenly combined. Remove the chicken from the brining liquid, but don’t discard it! Add a tablespoon of the brining liquid to the flour and whisk to combine. The crumbly texture will add extra crunch to the chicken! Dredge each piece of chicken in the flour mixture and place on a clean surface.
- Let it hang out: Allow the chicken to sit for at least 10 minutes so that the flour mixture absorbs all the liquid. This will create a more crispy chicken sandwich!
- Fry the chicken: Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet and allow for it to heat up to 350ºF. You can check the temperature by clipping a thermometer to the side of the skillet so you can monitor it or frequently testing with a digital thermometer. Once the oil is hot, place the chicken in the skillet in batches and allow for it to fry for roughly 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a wire rack and allow the chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes, you can fry the second batch while you wait, so you aren’t wasting time. Then, add the chicken back to the skillet and fry a second time until the chicken is crispy and cooked through to 165ºF.
- Assemble the sandwich: Add a layer of mayo or homemade sauce (recipe below) to toasted buns, with sliced cheese, thinly sliced onions, romaine lettuce, and pickles! Or you could go the slaw route (which is how the southerners do it!)
Toppings to use for your chicken sandwich:
- homemade coleslaw (a southern classic!)
- homemade sweet and tangy sauce (recipe below)
- thinly sliced sweet onions
- romaine lettuce
- sliced cheese
- beefsteak tomato slices
Homemade Chick fil A sauce:
It’s a simple sauce that tastes just like Chick Fil A sauce! I slather it on my sandwich and even use it to dunk my fries in!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons bbq sauce
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- ½ – 1 tablespoon sriracha (omit if you don’t want it to be spicy!)
What type of buns to use:
You can use whatever kind of buns you have on hand or what you usually prefer! But here are a few suggestions:
- potato buns (my choice for this particular sandwich)
- kaiser rolls
- onion rolls
- sesame seeded buns
- Texas toast/ sliced bread
Tips for making the best crispy chicken sandwich:
- Add a tablespoon of the buttermilk pickle brine to the flour mixture. That creates flakey, crispy, crunchy bits that adhere to on the surface of that chicken that add an extra crunch!
- Once the chicken breasts are coated in the flour mixture, allow them to sit on a wire rack or a baking sheet for 10 minutes. When the flour mixture dries onto the chicken, it fries up more crispy and crunchy!
- Lay the chicken away from you when you’re adding it to the hot oil, so that if it splatters, it splatters away from you
- Double fry the chicken to that you get maximum crunch! Just like when you cook French fries, allowing the chicken to rest for a few minutes and frying a second time creates a more crispy, crunchy outer coating. Just be sure to keep a close eye on the temperature, so you don’t overcook the chicken.
Sides to serve with sandwiches:
- Homemade coleslaw
- Garlicky extra crispy roasted potatoes
- Crispy cacio e Pepe Brussels sprouts
- Marinated mozzarella tomato salad
- Black Bean Tomato Avocado Salad
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Crispy Chicken Salad with Sriracha Honey BBQ Dressing
- Banh Mi Burgers
- Vietnamese Chicken Sandwich
- Best Homemade Sloppy Joes
- Rockin’ Onion Mushroom Burgers
- Chicken Gyros with French Fries
- Greek Gyros with Tzatziki
- Kofta Pita Sandwiches
- Smashed chickpea Green Goddess Sandwiches
- 1 lb. (2 medium) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into halves (or use 4 large chicken thighs)
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- ⅓ cup pickle juice
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon EACH: kosher salt AND garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon EACH: black pepper AND cayenne pepper
- ½ cup EACH: all-purpose flour AND cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon EACH: smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, AND kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon EACH: cayenne pepper AND onion powder
- oil, for frying
- Hamburger buns, pickles, lettuce, cheese, prepared sauce (see notes) and/or prepared coleslaw
- BRINE: Combine all the ingredients for the brine in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and make sure they are submerged in the mixture. Then, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 18 hours in advance.
- BREADING: Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to frying. Combine the ingredients for the breading in a baking dish and whisk. Then, add 1 tablespoon of the prepared brine mixture (the stuff the chicken was sitting in) to the pan and toss it around to make the crumbly bits that stick to the chicken. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture by laying the chicken flat and covering it in the flour mixture and pressing it down to make sure the coating adheres. Gently lift the breast (or thigh) and give it a gentle shake to dust of the excess and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts. If time permits, allow the chicken breasts to rest on the baking tray for 10 minutes. The drier the coating the more crispy it will get in the hot oil!
- FRY: Heat a deep cast iron pot with 3-4 inches of oil to 350ºF. Add the flour-coated chicken breasts in batches and fry for roughly 5 minutes, flipping halfway through. Then remove to a baking sheet with a wire rack placed on top. Allow the chicken to cool for 5-10 minutes then, add the chicken breast back into the hot oil and continue frying until the chicken breasts cook all the way through.
- ASSEMBLE: Toast buns if desired, top with prepared chicken, coleslaw, pickles, lettuce, and/or sauce!
- To make the sauce: whisk together 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons bbq sauce, ⅓ cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard, and ½-1 tablespoon sriracha sauce in a small bowl and until smooth.
- feel free to omit the cayenne pepper from the breading and brining mixture if you prefer to keep this on the mild side!